When Nature Was Our Playground

Micromedia File Photo

Growing up in Jackson Mills back in the 40s and 50s, we had it pretty good, at least most of the time. Occasionally, however, our fun was interrupted by having to pick peppers or corn at one of the local farms.

Behind our house back then was a lake that was the social gathering place for the neighborhood kids and adults alike. And what good times we had there whiling away those long, hot sultry summer days. With no IPod, PlayStations or malls to distract us, we spent our time playing outdoors undertaking important projects like building tree houses, underground forts with stovepipe periscopes (our specialty), keeping wood paths clear and making slingshots out of old rubber tire inner tubes.

During those coming of age years we learned (if unwittingly) about nature by simply observing the natural world around us. There were frogs to be caught, pond skaters to be observed and tadpoles to be brought home – much to the consternation of our mothers.
The lake is gone now, replaced by “progress” (a housing development). Next to disappear was the woods and fields that surrounded our house. I wish I had the money to buy it as an investment in the mental health and stability of my daughters and future generations, leaving it undisturbed to grow grasshoppers and lightning bugs, but I couldn’t afford to buy the land.

Though we often sing the praises of the amber waves of grain, we more often consider the land upon which it grows as nothing more than a potential sub-division to be exploited and covered with asphalt as soon as the profit margin becomes high enough. One would be hard pressed to find a better example of this than Lakewood – what a self-inflicted mess! It shows what delivered votes, a corrupt government and money can buy!

It has been said that the foundation for man’s propensity to exploit the environment can be traced back to the Old Testament, where supposedly man was deemed special and set apart and given dominion over the Earth, with an injunction to “subdue” it. In Lakewood it’s been taken seriously.

As science, human history and common sense tell us, we humans are not special, not set apart, but are part of and interdependent upon nature’s balance. The fact is, the Earth does not belong to us; we belong to the Earth. As Henry David Thoreau once noted, “sometimes the quality of life depends upon the number of things man leaves alone.”

As for me, I have no confidence in anything pretending to be outside or independent of, or in any manner above Nature. We live in the natural world – we know no other. Philosopher Robert Ingersoll put it this way: “Above Nature we cannot rise; below Nature we cannot fall.”

Fortunately, Nature gave us two ends, one to sit on and the other to think with. Our very existence as a species may very well depend on which one we use the most. When the water is no longer fit to drink, when we can’t breathe the air, when we have overpopulated the land and stripped it bare, it will be too late and Seneca’s dictum will ring true: “The time will come when our posterity will wonder at our ignorance of things that were so plain, had we only taken the time to look at them.”

Perhaps Thomas Wolfe was right when he said, “you can’t go home again,” but I sure miss that old lake. It will always hold a special place in the hearts of all those lucky enough to have felt its presence in their lives.

As for an environmental prognosis, I think that if we fail or refuse to take care of what Mother Nature has bequeathed to us, a variation of John Donne’s axiom on death will be our legacy – our final epitaph: “No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a piece of the main; Nature’s death diminishes me, because I am part of Nature; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee!”

Borden Applegate

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